The Perfect Book for Your Zodiac Sign
February 19 – March 20
Life on Mars: Poems
By Tracy K. Smith
88 pages; Graywolf Press
Represented by the sign of the fish, Pisces is sleek, swift and difficult to catch. Imaginative and dreamy, these water signs are also compassionate—though sometimes lost in their fantasies. Pisceans love to read sprawling period pieces with large casts of complex characters, poetry collections that excavate human emotion, and short stories that reveal small, poignant intimacies.
In Life on Mars, Tracy K. Smith, the newly anointed poet laureate of the United States, writes of stars and oceans, a futuristic planet and the universal arc of loss. Fueled by the death of her father, an engineer who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, the collection deftly moves between pop culture references like Kubrick and Bowie to scientific concerns like "Standard Uranium-Neutralizing device[s]" and galaxies. In "The Museum of Obsolescence," she writes: "So much we once coveted. So much / That would have saved us, but lived, / Instead, its own quick span, returning / To uselessness with the mute acquiescence / Of shed skin." The cyclical, questioning nature of Smith's poetry is marked by intelligence and wonder—both qualities that intoxicate and illuminate the mind of a Pisces.
March 21 – April 19
The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion
By Catriona Menzies-Pike
256 pages; Crown
The pioneer of the zodiac, those born under the sign of the Ram are known for their persistence and stubbornness. When these powerhouses set their minds on something, there isn't a barrier that can't be broken or finish line that can't be crossed. Not surprisingly, Aries love biographies of trailblazing artists, thinkers and fierce athletes, and any story marked by determination and a desire to achieve.
Catriona Menzies-Pike's debut narrative, The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion, satisfies in every way. When, as a 20-year-old art student, Menzies-Pike's parents are killed in a plane accident, her life devolves into a restless and reckless decade of grief. In an effort "to halt the toxic tailspin of loss," she tries running, her father's favorite pastime. Surprisingly, the self-described bookworm finds emotional and physical strength in the practice of long-distance running, and her own story of resurrection is linked with an interrogation into the history of female running as a sport. "When I tell people that women didn't run the Olympic marathon before 1984, that women weren't allowed to run more than 800 meters at the Olympic level until 1960, they're incredulous," she writes, unpacking both her own story and that of every woman in this most basic expression of human endurance.
April 20 – May 20
The Women Who Made New York
By Julie Scelfo
352 pages; Seal Press
Solid and steady as their bull sign suggests, Taureans like to understand the process behind the achievement of a feat. Step-by-step guides and how-to books appeal to their need for routine. On the flip side, they are also a romantic bunch. Expect their bookshelves to be lined with business narratives and love sonnets.
In The Women Who Made New York, Julie Scelfo creates engrossing portraits of strong female leaders throughout the city's history. The book appeals to both the Taureans' lesser-known love of beauty and design—the pages include glossy illustrations by Hallie Heald—as well as their obsession with unpacking the secrets of achievement. Starting with "The Settler," Lady Deborah Moody, "the first woman in the New World to receive a land grant to start her own settlement" in the 1600s, Scelfo offers vignettes of visionaries that range from benefactors to style setters, crooks to counterculturists, and artists to advocates. Familiar names like Zora Neale Hurston, Brooke Astor, Jane Jacobs and Audre Lorde are mixed in with more surprising figures such as "Dead Shot" Mary Shanley, one of New York's first policewomen. Workaholic Taureans just need to take a break, and reading a history of other people's toil and determination is the perfect way for them to do it.
May 21 – June 20
By Rachel Cusk
272 pages; Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Gemini is the sign of communication and wordplay, the more creative the better. Ruled by the air element, the Twins thrill to emotional highs and lows of life's roller coaster, wanting to fully feel every minute of the ride. This love of dramatic stories at times can manifest as a preoccupation with gossip, and they like their books to be equally titillating—think salacious celebrity tell-alls and scandalous domestic dramas.
Transit, Rachel Cusk's second installment of her post-divorce trilogy, speaks to both the Gemini's love of language and emotional intensity. The novel follows Faye, a recently divorced London mother who, in her unmoored state, holds fast to other people's life stories. Based, in part, on the real-life events chronicled in her earlier memoir, Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation, the book charts a two-week period during which Faye attempts to fix up her nearly falling-down flat while her two children are staying in the country with their father. In this vacuum of space, time and companionship, Faye busies herself with a string of characters, including her Polish builder, her hairdresser, students, her real estate broker and awful dates, all of whom share their own equally upsetting devastations. As Gerard, an ex-boyfriend whom Faye runs into by chance on the London streets, says: "It's strange ... that you always changed everything and I changed nothing and yet we've both ended up in the same place."
June 21 – July 22
The Buddha in the Attic
By Julie Otsuka
144 pages; Anchor
Symbolized by the crab, an animal that carries its own house on its back, the sign of Cancer is primarily concerned with home: making a home, strengthening a home and keeping it safe. Natural nurturers, Cancers tend to focus on family and community, using their hard shell to protect the things that matter, and their steely claws to snipe when necessary. Whether tough or tender, this water sign prefers books to reflect real life.
Novelist Julie Otsuka spent years researching the stories of Japanese immigrants in early 20th-century America for her slim yet powerful book The Buddha in the Attic. Cancers will dig deeply into this poignant novel that traces the collective story of "picture brides": women shipped across the Pacific from Japan to golden postwar California to meet husbands they knew only from photographs and letters, most of whom were not the actual men who met them on the docks. "On the boat we could not have known that when we first saw our husbands we would have no idea who they were." Using a chantlike first-person plural, Otsuka creates a haunting tale of women, both faceless and minutely specific in their heartaches, as they search for and ultimately remake home, again and again.
July 23 – August 22
Here Comes the Sun
By Nicole Dennis-Benn
352 pages; Liveright
The drama queen of the zodiac, this regal lion symbolizes a natural-born leader who rules with emotion and loves being at the center of attention. Leos read for urgency, excitement and escape. Think: Pulitzer Prize winners and best-sellers as well as big, bold stories with larger-than-life characters and vivid landscapes.
Nicole Dennis-Benn's gorgeously rendered novel, Here Comes the Sun, hits all those categories. The novel opens with Margot planning an illicit rendezvous at the Jamaican beach resort where she is a concierge by day and sex worker at night, satisfying "the curiosity of foreigners; foreigners who pay her good money to be their personal tour guide on the island of her body." Margot sells herself so her younger sister, Thandi, doesn't have to—a fictional situation that explores the underbelly of the luxury hotel industry. Much of the story takes place far from the glitz of tourist experience, following locals "home to their shabby neighborhoods, away from the fantasy they help create about a country where they are as important as washed-up seaweed." How Margot takes control of her life—and those around her—will resonate with take-charge Leos, who, come September, will have their whole book club reading the novel too.
August 23 – September 22
Lost Wax: Essays
By Jericho Parms
168 pages; University of Georgia Press
The helpers of the zodiac, Virgos are obsessed by small details and methodology. No beach reads here, thanks. Facts and trivia, well-organized narratives and books with innovative structures will capture and hold these natural bibliophiles' attention, though it may be difficult to keep them from reading with a red pen and correcting the text, even if just for their own amusement.
The intricacies involved in the weaving of these 18 luminous essays in Lost Wax will please even the most fastidious Virgo. A mixed meditation on art, wonder, loss and identity, the essays are inventive and harrowing, such as "Still Life with Chair," about the night the author simultaneously found her new lover, Joe, and lost her friend Ben in a fatal electrocution accident. Written in the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, each sentence is carved like a sculpture. "It is difficult to reconstruct the experience of depression, where the flesh and body of a story fragment into its mere skeletal frame."
September 23 – October 22
All the Light We Cannot See
By Anthony Doerr
531 pages; Scribner
Represented by the scales, this sign adores balance and symmetry, but ruled by the planet Venus, Libras also love to be in love. When it comes to books, nothing quotidian or dull will ever suffice (see: police procedurals or how-to business books). Instead, they long for sweeping tales of star-crossed lovers and theatrical spectacles with maximum drama.
Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer Prize–winning opus, All the Light We Cannot See, satisfies this air sign's need for romance and symmetry. The novel is woven out of small, exquisite vignettes and alternating points of view that fit together with unbelievable precision. Set against the backdrop of war-torn Europe in the '40s, the story follows the helixed lives of an orphan named Werner and the blind and fearless Marie-Laure—both children trying to survive. The fortress-lined French beaches of Saint-Malo, plus the romance of the story, create an almost dreamy feel that Libras will fall for. Take this passage about the sky: "Silver at dawn, green at noon, dark blue in the evening. Sometimes it looks almost red. Or it will turn the color of old coins. ... White strings of gulls drag over it like beads."
October 23 – November 21
Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning
By Claire Dederer
256 pages; Knopf
Scorpios are intrigued by all things sexy and dark. These intense troublemakers are known for both their magnetic and manipulative nature. Represented by the image of the scorpion, their venomous bite is also used for defense; they are possessive and protective of those they love. As for reading, they are pulled in by intimate stories laced with an air of danger that keep them turning pages through the night.
Sex, intrigue, old diary entries, dark humor and heady self-reflection—Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning has all the key qualities of a Scorpio book. In this memoir, Dederer examines her midlife desires and how they conflict with her identities as a wife, mother and homemaker. While on a book tour, an unexpected kiss from an older, handsome, brash writer (probably a Scorpio!) sets Dederer's life ablaze, threatening her seemingly satisfying life with her husband and the home they've made on a bucolic island in the Pacific Northwest. Trying to work through her confusion, she unearths her collection of journals in her office: "Mead notebooks, bound books, composition books, drawing pads—across one of these desks, a topographical timeline of twenty years of my life." What follows is an honest, raw examination into the little-explored world of female desire.
Nov 22 – Dec 21
Known and Strange Things: Essays
By Teju Cole
416 pages; Random House
Effortless cool and adventurous, Sagittarians are propelled by their curiosity. These worldly travelers have almost as many interests and specialties as they have half-finished books piled around their beds. As risk takers, they inspire those around them to try new experiences. A vivid travelogue about a life-changing journey, a glossy photo book focusing on exotic locales, or an extreme-sports almanac entertains these daredevils.
In Known and Strange Things, Teju Cole is our tour guide through dozens of countries, as well as through literature, music and contemporary art. Along the way, he considers questions of identity and dislocation (he was born in the United States but was raised in Nigeria). Cole is also an accomplished photographer, and the book includes a collection of visual work, some of it his own. The 55 essays appeal to Sagittarians' fleeting attention spans, allowing them to move quickly from one topic to another, whether it's an artist, a continent or a political theory. In an essay called "Blind Spot," Cole describes reading Virginia Woolf's diaries and appreciating her ability to mix topics like loss and death with a "radiance" of "epiphanic moments that intermittently illuminated the gloom." He says, "I went to sleep in the glare of her words," an apt description for the experience of reading this tightly woven, powerful collection.
December 22 – January 19
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
By Mason Currey (editor)
304 pages; Knopf
Hardworking and serious, the goal-oriented goat of the zodiac loves long-term planning. These grounded earth signs can also be very ambitious and will work until they achieve what they've set out to attain, making decisions based on research and evidence. Not surprisingly, they like to read biographies and science books to better understand the world around them—the more detailed, the better.
In his blog-turned-book project examining the origins of creativity, Mason Currey examines the habits and routines of 161 writers, composers, painters, scientists, filmmakers, choreographers and more. There is Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, who, "when working on a novel ... wakes at 4:00 a.m. and works for five to six hours straight," and Toni Morrison, who "not only worked a day job—as an editor at Random House—but taught university literature courses and raised her two sons as a single parent." Fastidious Benjamin Franklin famously outlined a scheme to achieve "moral perfection" according to a 13-week plan, while novelist Patricia Highsmith was "in the habit of having a stiff drink before she started to write—not to perk her up," one biographer notes, "but to reduce her energy levels, which veered toward the manic," marking the vodka bottle to "set her limit for the day." Considering the work habits, discipline and seriousness of these things, Capricorns may just wonder whether the luminaries featured in these pages aren't Capricorns themselves. (Hint: Murakami is.)
January 20 – February 18
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
By Matthew Desmond
448 pages; Broadway Books
Aquarians can be found leading drum circles, making picket signs and spearheading support online for their favorite philanthropic causes. The humanitarians of the zodiac, these community-minded folks believe in the possibility of utopia and are happiest when working toward it. Science fiction, courtroom dramas where the bad guys get their due, and hefty nonfiction books that expose the lies of history or corporate greed are this sign's perfect read.
In Evicted, Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond follows eight families on the edge of existence in Milwaukee, America's fourth-poorest city [p3]. The winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, the book renders the process of eviction in heartbreaking detail. Based on years of research, the book is unsparing in its scenes of families ripped apart ("Kendal stared back stone-faced, strong, just like his momma had taught him") and lists of items carried to the curb. ("Her mattresses. A floor-model television. Her copy of Don't Be Afraid to Discipline. Her nice glass dining table and the lace tablecloth that fit just-so. Silk plants. Bibles. The meat cuts in the freezer. The shower curtain. Jafaris's asthma machine.") A book that moves all of us—not just Aquarians—to action.